Two southern resident killer whales missing as experts fear for the population

Centre for Whale Research says one whale each is missing from the J and K pods

Two southern resident killer whales haven’t been seen for a few months leaving experts worried, not just about the fates of both creatures, but for the future of the entire family of orcas.

Just over 70 southern resident killer whales form the single group of exclusively salmon-eating orcas identified as J clan and the family is further divided into three groups, or pods, known as J, K and L.

The Centre for Whale Research said in a post that while all other killer whales from the J and K pods have been seen, one member from each pod is missing.

“We will continue to look for J17 and K25 in upcoming encounters but the chances of finding them are starting to look a little grim,” the post said.

J17 is a female born in 1977 and K25 is a male born in 1991.

Martin Haulena, head veterinarian at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, worries that the failure to spot the two whales underscores the challenges facing all southern resident orcas.

“I haven’t lost all hope but things are not looking good right now,” he said.

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States released photos in May taken by a drone that showed J17 had deteriorated in health since she was assessed last fall.

She was showing the condition known as “peanut-head,” which indicates a significant loss of fat, or blubber, around the head, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

Haulena agreed the population is in “huge trouble.”

“We’ve been working for a long time now with a number of different partners trying to figure out how we can turn around some of this.”

Researchers understand the basic threats to the killer whale population, which include lack of chinook salmon that they depend on, boat noise and noise in general that interferes with their ability to forage, as well as pollution that interferes with their ability to reproduce and fight off disease, Haulena said.

“But the actual individual causes of death are probably quite complicated and we’re down to the point where each of these individuals is so, so important. This population is in big trouble for sure.”

The possible loss of J17, a 42-year-old female, is especially devastating because females are crucial in the “matriarchal kind” of killer whale society where pods depend on older females for foraging, Haulena said.

“A whale from 1977 would be approaching the latter third of a normal, long life. They probably live 60-80 years if things are ideal but still, to lose one of those females that’s older like that would mean a whole lot to younger females,” he said.

A new female calf, J56, was reported a few weeks ago, but right now there are more animals being lost than being born, he said, adding that calf mortality for cetaceans can be as high as 50 per cent.

READ MORE: New rules for ships implemented to protect killer whales off B.C. coast

The killer whale population stands at 73 or 74 because of a couple of births, Haulena said.

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19 highlights lack of connectivity in First Nations communities

Many don’t have access required to utilize online platforms, says First Nations Technology Council

Salmon closures announced for Skeena and Nass watersheds

DFO notice expands on May 21 chinook ban throughout Skeena watershed

New traffic lanes for Six Mile west of Burns Lake coming soon

Construction to begin on lane extension and traffic improvement

Chamber names new board for 2020

And emphasizes that Houston is open for business

Houston to host high speed electric vehicle charging station

It will be installed and paid for by BC Hydro

Only four new COVID-19 cases, 228 active across B.C.

Health officials watching as activities ramp up

Feds looking at ways to reunite families amid COVID-19 border restrictions with U.S.

Some families with members of dual-citizenship have become separated due to the pandemic

Condition in kids with possible COVID-19 link being studied in Canada

This month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert to doctors about MIS-C

‘I knew what he wanted’: Kootenay man spends hours in tree as black bear patrols below

Francis Levasseur is no stranger to the outdoors, but a recent run-in with a bear caused quite a scare

COVID cancelled their wedding plans, so they married on a BC mountaintop

Ceremony was live streamed to friends and family around the world

Introducing the West Coast Traveller: A voyage of the mind

Top armchair travel content for Alaska, Yukon, BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and California!

Trudeau acknowledges racial unrest in U.S.; ‘We also have work to do in Canada’

‘Anti-black racism, racism, is real; it’s in the United States, but it’s also in Canada,’ Trudeau says

State of Local Emergency declared for Boundary as communities brace for river flooding

Warm weather and heavy rain could cause sections of Kettle River system to swell beyond 2018 levels

Large cruise ships barred from Canadian waters until end of October: Garneau

Last year 140 cruise ships brought more than two million visitors to Canadian ports

Most Read